Most people expected Arsenal to beat Stoke yesterday, not only because of our great record against them at home, but also because of our unbelievable consistency since the beginning of the season, but of course it was never going to be that easy! Arsene really has got his squad at the peak of their confidence but he knows that could change in any game from now on so he must keep everyone on an even keel. And he is doing very well.
Stoke, under Mark Hughes, have improved beyond recognition this season and they were actually very confident going into the game, and when they got the soft penalty to go 1-0 up it was always going to be a difficult game to win. But although the fans thought it was going to be an easy task, Arsene Wenger knew differently. He explains why he told his team to be wary, and why he thought this was going to be a tough one. “Of course. We expected that.” he said.
“In the last nine games Stoke has lost one, in the last four away games they didn’t lose – including Man United. They had a convincing win at Watford. We have given a lot in the last few days at West Ham and at Basel. So we had a hesitant start, but again we found the resources being 1-0 down to win the game. And we have now had three penalties against us at home and not one of them was convincing. Despite that we came back and won the game.
“(The aim was) not to get my frustration into the game and to keep our nerves and our composure, that’s what we did. We kept passing the ball and we didn’t panic, linked with the fact that we had some positive results for a while now and we have created a momentum that gives us strength to believe in our game.”
So does he think that this year Arsenal have a bit more confidence than last year? “Look, we were not too bad last year. We finished second in the league. I believe we have improved, yes. But we have to show that on a longer term.”
So then what is the real difference? And how can we keep this going? He made his thoughts clear about the spirit in the team. “I believe that we have created confidence, I think we are ambitious – but what is at stake is to keep urgency levels very high, humility levels very high and togetherness very high. We have to show that in every single game now. Then we will see where we stand.”
This interview was after our game, but before Leicester humiliated Man City, and as he knows we can’t influence other peoples results. We just have to keep winning our games, but the fact is, that at right this second, Arsenal are top of the League! “It’s good. But let’s wait until tomorrow.” he cautioned. “At the minute there is no difference anyway with the other teams, there is Leicester v Man City, there is Chelsea v West Brom tomorrow. But we are in there. No matter what the results will be. So that’s good – we are in the fight.”
Will being top give the players more confidence? Or is Wenger worried about complacency? “Psychologically it is difficult to win when you have to win, when everybody expects you to win. I believe that we want to build a momentum and when everyone expects you to win the game, you want to win it. Especially at home. When you analyse last year, last season at home we did very well against the top five and we dropped points at home against teams in mid-table. Certainly that is our challenge this year, to continue to do well against the top teams but as well in these kind of games, like Stoke today, where you have to win and we dropped some points last year.”
He is right of course. We have dropped points against Chelsea every year for the last 6, including last season when they were rubbish, but this time around we embarrassed them. We have beaten Stoke after going behind, who were always a bogey team, just like Swansea. We fought back from an impossibly bad performance to take a point at Old Trafford against Wenger’s nemesis, Jose Mourinho. We are top of the League but all the pundits still expect us to falter and drop away to fourth place.
This year I think Wenger has got it right and I don’t see any Wenger Out banners in the stadium, and the comments from Anti-Wenger fans on JustArsenal have just about disappeared, surprise, surprise. I understand that no one likes to be proved so spectacularly wrong, but as long as the loyal real fans can celebrate our success then I am happy to support Wenger until he decides to leave on his own terms.
He has worked for 20 years to build this club into one of the best in the world, with limited resources for most of it, but he is guiding Arsenal to the pinnacle of the footballing world from humble beginnings, and we may stay there until Wenger hands on the reins to his successor.
Can you imagine how good Arsenal would have been if he had the funds that Ferguson had in the last 20 years? He would have been a much worthier adversary. To stay in touch with no money (and even selling our best players to our rivals) is proof that Wenger really is a genius, no matter who plays in the team.
He must be feeling on top of the world now that Arsenal are top of the League. And deservedly so. But where are all the fans that were protesting last year? Are they willing to come out and admit they were wrong? Let’s see shall we?